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GISCorps volunteer assisted with downloading and parsing OpenStreetMap – Syria

The humanitarian and human rights communities are increasingly interested in the effects of conflicts and natural disasters on cultural heritage. Though not as pressing a concern as the immediate provision of food, water, medicine, shelter, and other humanitarian necessities, the preservation and restoration of cultural heritage sites is a key component in the recovery of communities following traumatic events.  In 2014, the Geospatial Technologies Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) received a grant from the NSF to study the effects of the Syrian Civil War on cultural heritage.

Site List Combined

The first step was the creation of a dataset of the locations of cultural heritage sites in Syria. Partners at the Penn Museum provided an expert derived data set, but certain categories of sites, such as archeological sites, were over represented while other categories, such as religious sites and cemeteries, were under represented. Open source data from OpenStreetMap was used to supplement the expert derived list, but the process of ingesting the data, identifying the sites of interest, and removing duplicates was time consuming and tedious. In April 2015, cultural heritage workers responding to the Earthquake in Nepal requested a dataset of sites and the process was repeated for that country. With interest from other groups in similar data sets in other countries, AAAS realized that the process needed to be streamlined and contacted GISCorps for assistance.

OSM Data Downloaded

Sami Snunu, a GIS professional from Calgary, Canada was then selected and began the process by helping to set up a PostGIS database, which streamlined the downloading and ingestion process. The next step was to identify and extract features related to cultural heritage. As different tags are used in different countries, this step requires that a list of all possible tags be generated and manually examined to select the appropriate tags. With a tag list generated, the desired features were extracted and exported to shapefiles. Sami then developed a script to automate these processes, provided the tag list has already been created, allowing for the list of sites to be regularly updated as Open Street Maps is edited. These tools will help AAAS aid the cultural heritage community in quickly responding to future conflicts and natural disasters.

OSM Data Extracted

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